There has long been deserved admiration within the sport for the considered, realistic growth that Coventry Bears have shown since joining the professional ranks in 2015.
But this year there has been a noticeable and consistent step up on the field that has seen Richard Squires’ team beat Rochdale, Hunslet and Keighley already this year.
For owner Alan Robinson, who has re-immersed himself in the playing side of his club as director of rugby, it has been the culmination of a lot of hard work, commitment and belief.
Robinson explained: “I said this to people before we came into League 1, and it was very much a personal thing, but I thought we’d need three to five years to bed in and learn a lot of lessons about this level.
“That has turned out to be quite important for us, and we had to do it when you look at what went on at the other clubs that came in then from outside the north.
“We’ve always had that caution around the business and what we’re trying to do – there are a lot of challenges along the way but we focused on ourselves.”
When the long-serving Tom Tsang was appointed as London Broncos assistant last year it allowed Robinson to refresh the playing front. Ex-Hull Dockers and Hull Academy coach Squires arrived to work alongside senior recruit and assistant Dave Scott, the Scotland international and former Batley and Doncaster player.
“With the three of us there was some balance there,” Robinson said.
“Dave Scott brought experience from the Championship and a leadership quality that’s been quite unbelievable and exactly what we needed.
“Rich brought a young, fresh outlook as a coach who is full of enthusiasm, knows the game and deserved the opportunity.
“I’m more of an older head and could bring that experience of recruiting, and it’s worked well.
“We’ve been very meticulous about what we wanted to achieve and how we would go about it, and very realistic in terms of how we trained and managed the squad.
“We have some guys that come quite a distance and others that are very local, so there’s a balance there too, and when we’ve put it all together it’s created a good culture.
“I saw in the first game against Barrow straight away that we were going in the right direction when we pushed them all the way to the last 20 minutes.
“The fact that people are now talking about Coventry Bears being a chance of pushing for the top six has made me very proud.”
The Bears have had a host of stand-outs in their squad, including the experienced Scott, former Newcastle duo Dan Coates and Sam Bowring and ex-Keighley forward Chris Cullimore.
The Welham brothers, Liam and Matt, have also been key figures, alongside fullback Nathan Hill, one of several products of the student game who is now being monitored by several Championship clubs.
Now the Bears are hoping to kick on, secure further shocks and perhaps secure a play-off place.
It shows the value of Robinson’s long-term vision, although he does finish with words of warning.
He added: “The hardest part and the bit that makes me proudest is that we’ve done it on a minimal budget compared to other clubs.
“Whether we can continue to do that with all the issues around the game and what happens with the central distribution in the next two years, I don’t know.
“We need to decide as a sport what we want League 1 to be. Is it of value?
“We think we bring immense value within our geographical area, but is that valued by others at the highest levels of the game?
“We do a lot of work in the local community on a minimal budget, but are we going to have a pathway in the game as a club?
“I hope and pray that we do, and I hope that we continue to prove people wrong.”
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